Exemplary team tactics by Lidl-Trek in the closing kilometers and a selective early half of the course made for an exciting day of racing at America’s highest level professional road race, the Maryland Cycling Classic. Once again a showcasing of world-class talent, the one-day UCI race saw an all-WorldTour podium with Danish national road racing champion Mattias Skjelmos (Lidl-Trek) taking the top step, American climber Neilson Powless coming in second, and Canadian Hugo Houle (Israel-Premier Tech) in third.
The 2023 Maryland Cycling Classic race rolled out from Sparks, Maryland—roughly 30 minutes north of downtown Baltimore—under sunny skies with a gentle easterly breeze.
Kilometer zero saw the race explode with numerous riders attempting to make the early break. A group of five eventually found themselves off the front and worked well together to build up a gap of several minutes as the peloton sat up and took a breather after a hectic start.
The early breakaway group consisted of David Lozano (Novo Nordisk), Oscar Sevilla (Team Medellin), Carson Miles (Toronto Hustle), Julian Gagne (Team Skyline), and Kyle Murphy (Legion of Los Angeles).
Riding by cornfields and Oak and Maple trees, riders did their best to stay cool and hydrated as the temperature went up, eventually reaching the mid-90s F. The parcours—identical to last year’s inaugural race—was lumpy, with the riders heading north towards the Pennsylvania border, around a hilly, Classics-syle circuit—then back south towards Baltimore to finish in the Inner Harbor.
The WorldTour teams controlled the front, with EF Education-EasyPost shouldering the bulk of the responsibility and keeping the break on a relatively tight leash.
At around 120k to go, aggressions by the top teams began, quickly fragmenting the peloton. The breakaway was caught shortly thereafter, with Lidl-Trek and Jayco AlUla racing strongly on the front of a 30 rider group with racers from all of the participating WorldTour teams, plus Israel-Premier Tech represented.
Groups formed and split, eventually settling down to 20 or so of the strongest riders, with most of the big names present other than Matteo Jorgenson (Team USA), who suffered a flat tire at an inopportune time.
The heat and hills began to take their toll as the group was further whittled down coming into the finishing circuit. At around 50k to go, the front group settled out into the six riders who would contest the win. Lidl-Trek had numbers with Toms Skujins and Mattias Skjelmose, as did Jayco AlUla, represented by Chris Harper and Lucas Hamilton. Also in this group were Israel-Premier Tech’s Hugo Houle and EF Education-EasyPost’s Neilson Powless.
With most of the climbing completed and a downhill run into the finishing circuit, it would become a tactical battle.
Skujins surprised the group by attacking hard at roughly 30k to go. Powless was the first to react, but initially didn’t get much help from the others and the change of pace dropped Harper from the group. Trek then had the clear numerical advantage with Skjelmose getting a free ride.
Skujins stayed out front solo until 15k to go, at which point he started to tire and Skjelmose jumped hard from the back of the group, quickly bridging across in what looked to be a planned move, but ended up bringing the rest of the group back across behind, led by Powless. By this point everyone was starting to look pretty punch-drunk, but Lidl-Trek continued to put the pressure on, attacking and countering to tire out Houle, Powless and Hamilton.
Eventually it worked. At 7k to go, Skjelmose drifted across the road, realized he had clean air behind him and powered away without getting out of the saddle. He increased his lead all the way to the finish, in a masterclass of team tactics. Powless won the sprint for second, with Houle coming in third. The rest of the field trickled in in smaller groups.
“I knew that once we caught Toms it was going to be a race for second, because everybody knows how good Mattias is. So I just tried to do everything I could to get the best result possible, and I knew that was going to come from a sprint," Powless said after the race. "I won the sprint for second place, unfortunately it wasn’t for the win, but I think that was the best result I could have expected.”
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